Photo by Jeff Fasano
Photo by Jeff Fasano
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The Anarchist

 

Reviewed by Neal Weaver

Theatre Asylum

Through May 23

 

There’s something slightly inhuman about David Mamet’s play: It tells the tale of a former anarchist, Cathy (Felicity Huffman), who killed two policemen in the course of a robbery, and has been in prison for years. Now she is up for parole, and during a final encounter with her parole officer (Rebecca Pidgeon) she has just one chance to demonstrate that she deserves to be set free. The idea is potentially an exciting one but emerges more as a tract than a play, and the two characters are more like philosophical constructs than human beings.

 

It appears that Mamet wanted the two characters to be equal, so there’d be a real contest. But in practice, Huffman is the more credible of the two. She speaks from the heart, genuinely despairing at the philosophical nit-picking of the officer, who is vaguely malevolent from the start. The officer lacks compassion from the get-go, so it’s hardly surprising that she delights in further incriminating her prisoner. And that’s no fault of the performer.

 

This critic found himself rooting for Huffman’s character almost from the beginning. If she is lying, she is adept at putting up a front of long-suffering sincerity. The officer is merely the villainess of a melodrama.

 

It’s hard to believe that two women, in this situation, would indulge in a Socratic dialogue in which every thought and feeling is subjected to challenge and minute analysis. And the climax is somehow anti-climactic; since both women are possibly unreliable witnesses, we don’t know whether to believe any or all of the accusations each makes against the other.

 

Huffman and Pidgeon are both highly accomplished performers, and they hold our interest till almost the end, though the play goes on far beyond the point of diminishing returns. Director Marja-Lewis Ryan keeps the exchanges crisp and clear, but the relentlessly literate dialogue renders it all synthetic.

 

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles. Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through May 23. (323) 960-7784, www.plays411.com/anarchist

 

 

 

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